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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Flying Dutchman makes his mark // Verstappen’s efforts go unrewarded but the plaudits are his

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While strategy was the source of intrigue in Malaysia as spectators were left wondering if Sebastian Vettel could outpace the Mercedes in a straight fight, it was the source of frustration for many in China, not least Nico Rosberg. With a risk of burning out tyres and allowing Ferrari into the picture, Mercedes went very conservative and secured a one-two with an incredibly measured strategy, though Lewis Hamilton’s pace appeared more conspiracy than controlled in the eyes of some.

While the tantrums were at the front, future stars were making their name further down the order.

One for the future

Max Verstappen, Scuderia Toro Rosso: Started 11th, Retired

The star of the show was the rookie Verstappen, who had a points finish cruelly taken away from him by yet another Renault power unit failure. And while the result would have been impressive, it was the manner of Verstappen's drive that impressed.

After a disappointing Saturday for Toro Rosso on a track where all four Renault-powered cars struggled, the young Dutchman lined up 13th alongside Carlos Sainz Jr having been a tenth and a half faster than his teammate. Knowing he was unable to make up his time on the straights, Verstappen became extremely aggressive under braking, picking up where he left off in the first two races of the season. His overtakes were spectacular, though not dramatic as he moved through the field.

Verstappen looks as comfortable as any other driver in the field
Verstappen looks as comfortable as any other driver in the fieldCredit: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Verstappen made a good start, making up some of the places after his Saturday struggles and jumping up to eleventh after narrowly avoiding contact between his teammate and Daniil Kvyat on the exit of turn six. This gave Verstappen a great chance to challenge for the points and after running a longer first stint, the Flying Dutchman was up to tenth. He soon dispatched Felipe Nasr showing his overtaking prowess and control of the car, braking late without a puff of smoke from his unloaded front right tyre, allowing him the perfect exit to stop Nasr responding.

He ran ninth throughout his second stint before another great move on Sergio Pérez in his final stint looked set to guarantee him a solid eighth place finish. But then luck intervened and the Toro Rosso ground to a halt on the start/finish straight with just four laps left, smouldering away before the marshals embarrassing attempt to move it off the track left the abandoned car with a broken front wing.

He has the speed, brilliant racecraft as well as an incredible feel for the car, particularly under braking

Verstappen looks set to be a star of the future and has truly put his teammate in the shade since Melbourne. Verstappen was comfortably ahead of Ricciardo as the fastest Renault-powered car before his engine blew and held on to the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus valiantly, despite the Lotus being the far superior car with the preferred engine in Shanghai.

We have never seen a driver so young in F1 and it is astonishing how polished he already is. At no point has he looked flustered or fazed and he looks as comfortable as any other driver in the field. He has the speed, brilliant racecraft as well as an incredible feel for the car, particularly under braking. Now if only he had a reliable car to secure the results that his driving deserves.

Solid score for Sauber

Felipe Nasr, Sauber F1 Team: Started 9th, Finished 8th

Don’t look now but Nasr sits seventh in the championship
Don’t look now but Nasr sits seventh in the championshipCredit: Sauber Motorsport AG

Sauber’s pace has gone rather unnoticed to start the season, though it was hindered in Malaysia by inexperienced errors from both drivers early in the race. The Swiss squad look comfortable as the fifth fastest team in F1 at the moment, having been a distance behind the pack in 2014. Don’t look now but Felipe Nasr sits seventh in the championship, largely due to his fantastic debut in Melbourne.

Nasr put on just as good a show in China. The Brazilian was consistently faster than his more experienced teammate in qualifying, by half a tenth in Q1, and holding Marcus Ericsson off by a tenth in both Q2 and Q3 as both Saubers made the top 10 shootout.

Though they were left languishing at the bottom of Q3, it was certainly a pleasant result. In the race, Nasr made a good start to jump up to eighth before an early first stop relegated him to tenth once the stops had played out.

By the time he came out after his second stop he was in ninth on the coat tails of Max Verstappen. When the Toro Rosso faltered, Nasr assumed eighth with the safety car ending the threat from behind, which is as good as Sauber can expect with such a gap between Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams to the rest of the field.

Grosjean returns from F1 wilderness

Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 Team: Started 8th, Finished 7th

Despite the calamities of his teammate in Shanghai, Romain Grosjean got his first F1 points for 11 months with a great drive to secure seventh. The Lotus was clearly outpaced by Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying but in the race, the raw power of the Mercedes power unit shone through and allowed Grosjean to control his tyres and the gap to the chasing pack, well aware that he didn’t have the pace to challenge the Williams ahead.

Result aside, it was arguably Romain Grosjean’s best drive since 2013
Result aside, it was arguably Romain Grosjean’s best drive since 2013Credit: Lotus F1 Team

The Frenchman did spend the second stint chasing teammate Pastor Maldonado but once the Venezuelan started having the half race from hell, Grosjean was there to pick up the pieces for the team. The result aside, it was arguably Romain Grosjean’s best drive since 2013 as he showed his blinding pace was back. It may have been a rather lonely race but it shows what the Frenchman is capable of and gives him something to build on as he sets off on a quest to fight Williams.

Mercedes malaise

Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team: Started 1st and 2nd, Finished 1st and 2nd

After the hype surrounding Ferrari following their shock win in Malaysia, Mercedes were desperate to get back on track and ensure no errors were made. And despite a 1-2, the Brackley squad left Shanghai with their latest squabble.

Had Nico been significantly faster he'd have been able to pass his teammate on track

Nico Rosberg felt that Lewis Hamilton unnecessarily backed him up throughout the first two stints, allowing Sebastian Vettel to attempt the undercut at each stop, failing marginally particularly at the first attempt. Believe what you will about Hamilton's tactics, if Rosberg could have gone faster, it was right on the line of costing Mercedes points. Having said that, the German was never even within the DRS zone. Had Nico been significantly faster he'd have been able to pass his teammate on track.

In my view it is a storm in a teacup but it does appear a problem of Mercedes own making as they try desperately not to favour one driver or the other. While I can’t believe there are some saying that it was a major step on the way to Lewis Hamilton retaining his crown, it was a clear psychological win for Hamilton as Rosberg put absolutely everything into beating the Brit this weekend and came up short, his emotions ringing through both on Saturday and Sunday. Hamilton has got to Rosberg and the German needs to retain his composure before he can rejoin the battle.